Here are five things to watch when the Texans (5-1, 2-0 AFC South) take on the Baltimore Ravens (5-1, 2-0 AFC North) on Battle Red Day presented by Halliburton at Reliant Stadium in Week 7. Kickoff is Sunday at noon CT.
1. Big-play opponent: The Texans' passing defense looks to rebound after allowing Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers to throw for six touchdowns and 338 yards last week. They might have to do it without Pro Bowl cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who is questionable to play because of a groin injury.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco ranks seventh in the NFL with 1,690 passing yards per game. His top three wide receivers all average more than 15 yards: Anquan Boldin (429 yards, 15.3 average), Torrey Smith (394 yards, 18.8 average) and former Texan Jacoby Jones (185 yards, 16.8 average).
"You see this team catch a lot of slants and stuff and make big plays," Kubiak said. "Jacoby is an excellent runner after the catch. Their young receivers are excellent runners after the catch, so they've got big-play capability."
Flacco, who has a 49-21 record in five seasons as a starter, ranks 10th in the league with a 92.0 passer rating. He has thrown eight touchdowns with four interceptions and has been sacked 14 times. He has completed only 61.7 percent of his passes but averages a whopping 8.09 yards per attempt, which ranks third in the NFL and first in the AFC.
"He's got a great arm," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "I don't know if everybody gives him credit for that, but he's got a tremendous arm. He threw it flat-footed about 68 yards on one of their game tapes we looked at. He's capable of throwing it. We saw it last year in our first game. He bombed us a couple times. You have to be ready that he can out-throw your coverage sometimes."
2. Stopping Rice: The Ravens use a similar zone running game to the Texans and, like the Texans, have a do-it-all feature back who makes it go.
Two-time Pro Bowler Ray Rice ranks eighth in the NFL this season with 482 rushing yards, averaging 5.0 yards per carry with five touchdowns. He's third in the league with 715 yards from scrimmage.
"He's tough to bring down," Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said. "He's got great balance. He's got great strength. He's extremely hard to tackle, and he's got great vision. He's a very good player."
Rice ranks fourth in rushing since 2010 with 3,066 yards; Foster ranks first with 3,401. Rice is second since 2010 in yards from scrimmage (4,559) behind Foster (4,694). As his yards from scrimmage totals indicate, Rice is a potent receiver. He averaged 72.3 catches for 654 yards per season from 2009-11 and has 24 for 233 so far this season.
3. Former Texans: The Ravens have three former Texans in All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach, receiver/return specialist Jones and safety Bernard Pollard. All three will play their first game at Reliant Stadium since parting ways with the Texans.
"Pretty good players, aren't they?" Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Thursday. "It makes you feel good as a coach... Three fine football players, but they're all on a great football team also. We've got to worry about the group."
Leach played for the Texans from 2006-10 before leaving in free agency for the Ravens. A punishing lead blocker, he earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 2010 after Foster led the league in rushing. He also made the Pro Bowl last season. He has two catches for nine yards and a touchdown and 10 catches for 81 yards this season.
Jones played for the Texans from 2007-11. He was released in May. A third-round draft pick from Lane College, he had 1,741 receiving yards and a team-record four kick returns (three punts, one kickoff) for touchdowns while in Houston. He fumbled a punt near the goal line in last season's playoff game at Baltimore, leading to an early Ravens touchdown. Jones returned a kickoff 108 yards for touchdown last Sunday and has 11 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown this season.
Pollard was with the Texans from 2009-10. After joining the team three games into the 2009 season, he had 102 tackles and four interceptions. He led the team with 112 tackles in 2010, but the Texans did not try to re-sign him in 2011. Pollard has started 19 of 22 games since joining the Ravens and has 43 tackles this season with one interception.
4. MegaWatt: Watt has had an MVP-type start to the season. He leads the NFL in sacks (9.5), is tied for eighth in passes defensed (8) and leads the Texans in tackles (32) and tackles for loss (17).
Watt's eight passes defensed are three more than any NFL linebacker, four more than any other defensive lineman and two more than any other Texans player. He has a sack in eight consecutive games dating back to the 2011 playoffs.
"J.J. Watt's a beast," Rice said on Wednesday. "What he's doing right now is crazy because he's designated as a defensive end, but he's essentially doing it from inside. A lot of guys are pass rushers but they pass rush off the edge, and from what he's doing inside, causing that kind of damage is amazing. He's definitely a presence. You've got to know where he's at, at all times."
Watt had a monster game at Baltimore in the playoffs last season, with 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks in the Texans' 20-13 loss in the Divisional Round.
"We lost, so it wasn't very fun, (but) it was a big game for me," Watt said. "It was one of games where I reminded myself of what I'm capable of. It was one of those that, 'Alright this feels like me. This is what I'm capable of, and I need to do this every single game next year.' So that's what I've tried to do this year so far."
5. NamasTate: The Ravens can expect to see a steady dose of Texans running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate after allowing 200-plus rushing yards in back-to-back games.
Foster has scored a touchdown in every game this season and leads the NFL with eight total touchdowns. He ranks fourth in the league in rushing yards (561), sixth in yards from scrimmage (633) and first in rushing attempts (149) but is averaging only 3.8 yards per carry, down from his previous career average of 4.7. The Texans average 3.8 yards as a team after averaging 4.6 over the last two seasons.
In three career games against the Ravens, Foster has gained 4.5 yards per carry and cracked the 100-yard rushing mark twice. He had 20 carries for 100 yards against Baltimore at Reliant Stadium in 2010 and 27 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season.
Tate is a native of Salisbury, Md., about two hours southeast of Baltimore. He sat out in Week 5 with a toe injury and had only three carries in Week 6 but was back to full-speed at practice this week. After gaining 942 yards last season on 5.4 yards a carry, Tate has only 33 carries for 131 yards (4.0 average) this season. He has eclipsed 26 yards just once, but that was the only game in which he had more than eight carries.
The Ravens allowed 227 rushing yards to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6 and 214 to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5. On the season, they rank 26th in rushing defense with 136.5 yards allowed per game.